While the Phillies aren’t buried yet, their season is hanging on by a thread. Against that backdrop, GM Matt Klentak addressed a variety of topics yesterday with reporters including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.
Looking forward, Klentak spoke glowingly of backstop J.T. Realmuto, whose big season has been a bright spot — and will likely prompt extension talks this winter. The Phillies aren’t shying away from making their intentions known.
“I think J.T. has had a phenomenal season. When we acquired him, I declared him the best catcher in baseball. He’s been better than that. He’s been everything we could have asked for. I think it’s reasonable to expect that one of our offseason goals will be to address his contract situation and whether we line up or not remains to be seen. But he has done nothing to change our belief in him or our desire to make him a Phillie for the foreseeable future.”
Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion looked back — and not necessarily at the positive aspects of the season. Klentak was probed in particular regarding the club’s quiet mid-season roster-building efforts. He explained that the organization started with a sober assessment of its “place in the standings” and injury outlook.
From there, it was simply a matter of assessing the market and “mak[ing] judgments.” Klentak cautioned against putting too much focus on the fact that the organization did not end up parting with major talent in any deals. Getting something for (almost) nothing is laudable, after all. As Klentak put it: “I understand that sometimes what you give up can serve as a proxy for aggressiveness or intent but I think there’s also a value in reading a market and trying to make the best deals that you can.”
As it turned out, said Klentak, the organization was able to secure useful players over the summer. He cited Corey Dickerson’s productive hitting and the “meaningful innings” thrown by relievers Mike Morin and Blake Parker, while explaining that starter Jason Vargas “has done largely what we’ve asked him to do, which was take the ball every day and keep us in the game.” Ultimately, Klentak said, the group of acquired players “may not have been household names, but I think most of them have performed in such a way that they’ve delivered what we hope they’d deliver.”
The rotation was a particular focus, with reporters asking about the club’s decision to pass on mid-season signee Dallas Keuchel, who has pitched well for the division-rival Braves. Klentak acknowledged, generally, that the organization will always “look at the reasons we made or didn’t make decisions and try to learn from it.”
In this case, Klentak indicated, the club felt not only that the 2018 starting staff was “healthy and effective,” but that it could take another step forward:
“There’s no question that we bet on some improvement from some of those players based on what they had shown in 2018, based on their ages, their development curve, that we thought there would be more improvement than what we’ve seen. It’s hard to look back and second-guess that thought process. It’s easy to look back and second-guess the results, just like many Phillies fans have second-guessed.”
Needless to say, the outlook of the rotation in 2020 and beyond figures to be an area of focus over the winter. There’ll be some work to do on the position-player side as well, but the Phillies face an abundance of pitching questions. Just how the front office will go about answering them remains a topic for another day.
There was also plenty of chatter regarding manager Gabe Kapler and his coaching staff. Kapler is “doing a very good job” overall, said Klentak, who said “the group is playing hard down the stretch.” While the results have trended downward in the second half of the season, Klentak says that he has observed “subtle improvements” in players that were at least partially attributable to the work of the uniformed staff.
Klentak also defended pitching coach Chris Young, who was elevated to the role over predecessor Rick Kranitz — who ended up taking the same job for the aforementioned Braves staff. “I think he and our group have made a lot of improvements along the way,” said Klentak. “But I understand why when a season has gone the way that it does his name is going to be in the paper.”
Ultimately, the Phils aren’t ready to make any final decisions about what kinds of changes will be made over the winter. “Until we play the last game of 2019, we’re not going to start talking about 2020 yet,” Klentak said.